Updated: May 20
Blinded by the Twinkle Lights
I have a friend who loves the holidays. She’s the first to put up her lights. The first to bookmark holiday recipes. The first to put on carols.
She’s also the first one to meltdown. I mean, every...single...year. By the time she changes out her calendar, she’s beyond burning out. She looks like a ghost.
Every year I encourage her to back off, but it means too much to her. She’s a glutton for her own destruction. The ironic result is she misses out on the fun that made the whole thing meaningful in the first place.
This really reminds me of some mission-driven entrepreneurs.
Coaches, writers, trainers, assistants, business managers - all people who left their old job to build something that matches their values. They really want to make an impact. And they want a more fulfilling life.
But yikes! These same awesome people can really lose their way.
Impact-driven businesses can produce some of the crabbiest, most tired, most emotionally drained entrepreneurs you’ll ever meet.
You may think you’re immune to burning out like that - if you and your business are still in the honeymoon phase.
“Burning out is for greedy corporate types,” you think, “those suckers itching for the corner office. Not for inspired people like me.”
But...I have bad news.
In 2019 there was this study that took a close look at passion and its connection to burnout.. Spoiler - the record for passionate people? It’s not good.
So let’s not kid ourselves. Our purpose is no safeguard against burning out. If anything, it’s a risk factor.
But it doesn’t have to be. Burning out is avoidable.
WHO Says Your Burning Out!
So what is burning out? The World Health Organization tried to spell it out for us in a recent report. Unfortuntaely the WHO speaks in semi-robotic language. So I’m going to translate their version into English.
Burning out comes from recurring - or even constant - stress that’s just not being faced or managed. It results in exhaustion, illness, cynicism, loneliness, sucking at your job, and eventually hating life.
Burning out is when the work becomes an end in itself. Kind of like the road becoming the reason you drive. Eventually it drains everything of meaning.
Well-meaning entrepreneurs do this a lot.
They get into business to help people, to connect more, to sleep better, and to feel free. But they often end up helping people, connecting, and sleeping just to enable their work.
That’s not freedom. That’s addiction. That’s burning out.
Look, I’m not your therapist. I’m more about good strategies for purpose-driven entrepreneurs. But working until you go numb inside is the opposite of my prescribed process, and it’s a lousy strategy.
If we’re looking to create our ideal life, then we have to consider the question of burning out.
So first, we’ll look at the warning signs that you’re headed for the danger zone. Then we’ll talk about how to get you out of it.
Signs of Burning Out: Time to Take an Inventory
First of all, let’s talk about what burning out looks like in real-time. How do you even know you’re headed there?
Burning out doesn’t always look like a scene from Apocolypse Now. In fact, the symptoms can get so integrated into our daily routine that you think, “Hey, this is just how I operate right now.”
But before you dismiss the possibility, you need to take honest stock of your life.
Have you normalized burning out?
Are you fatigued all the time? Exhaustion can be a red flag. Do you feel like there’s no such thing as “a full tank?”
Burning out can bring up cynicism. Is “what’s the point” is your secret motto now?
Are you struggling to get things done on time? Because burning out can cause work quality to slide.
Is your life a mess? If your plants are dying, if you’re wearing yesterday’s underwear, if your mail’s unopened - you might be burning out.
Burning out can trigger escape fantasies. Does your mind drift to thoughts of winning the lottery? Or marrying someone rich? Anything to change your schedule?
Your patience wears thin when you’re burning out. Has everyone become a little more annoying? Do you feel like snapping at strangers or loved ones?
Are you getting sick a lot? Lots of headaches? Gut issues? How are you sleeping?
Burning out can cause binging and addictive behavior. So think, are you having ice cream for dinner and alcohol for dessert? Are you strung out on Netflix series or worse?
Isolation and numbness are awful side effects of burning out. Do you feel distant, withdrawn, hollow?
And then there’s...denial. Are you lying to yourself when you answer “no” to the above questions?
It’s better to just face it if you’re in denial. Then you can move on to getting better.
Like in business, you gotta see what’s not working in order to fix it. So be honest with yourself. Then you can get onto building a life that actually works for you.
5 Ways to Get Back Your Groove
Again...I’m not a therapist. And if you suspect you’re burning out you should probably talk to yours. But you don’t need to be a doctor to see that, if you want to be present - for your business, your loved ones, and yourself - you need to find a better way to get things done.
Good news - there are some pretty easy fixes to put you on a better track.
Bear in mind, you have to attack burning out from a lot of different angles to make a difference.
We’ll call these angles: Mind, Business, Body, Emotions, and Relationships.
Give your brain some time to sound off.
Before you go “fix” things, let your mind have a chance to talk. To say everything. Journal, talk to a professional, whatever, but don’t just move ahead without sitting with the burnout a second.
It might be uncomfortable, but it’s key. You might be surprised at the things your feeling. Often saying them drains off a lot of the stress. But whatever it is, it’s time to get all your thoughts safely out.
If you want to avoid burning out, you have to end your day officially. You need to clock the hell out. And don’t pick your closing time on the fly, when you’re already working. Pick it ahead of time.
Then create a ritual to say, “It’s the end of the day.” Change clothes when you clock out. Or make a cup of tea.
I recently heard about a guy who works from home. His closing ritual is to get in his car - seriously - and drive around the block. He walks in his door and announces to his family, “I’m home!” Yes, they think he’s nuts, but it works for him.
Whatever it takes (except for screen time) do it. Officially pulling down the shades on your workday is imperative for deflecting burning out.
Give your body a little focused attention.
Take your body on a walk, to the gym, to the yoga mat, or into the pool once a day. Experiment with different settings and activities. Exert your body in a way that’s pleasant and freeing. If you’re burning out, your body’s working a lot harder than you realize. Do not let this slide.
Don’t forget the Joy Injection.
This means prioritizing fun - things that make you happy. Not things that numb the pain of burning out - like sweets or alcohol or staring at a screen - actual joy inducers.
Ask yourself what you use to do for fun when you were younger? Ice skating? Board games? Being with animals?
Drawing? Reading? Engaging in activities that give you selfish joy is like coming home to yourself. It will bring color back to your world.
Above all, Reconnect.
This may be the most important. Sit with your kids, look into your partner’s eyes, visit a friend. And make time for connecting with yourself.
Expand your idea of the universe beyond your business plan. Remember what it’s like to be you and to be in the presence of the people you like and love.
See? It’s not hard. It’s kind of stuff you already know. But will you do it?
It’s easy to put off a yoga session or drawing with your kid in exchange for one more phone call or email. But it’s costing you more than 30 minutes.
Giving your life back its meaning...is everything. It’s why we started this whole thing.
Your North Star
So why… why should this happen so much to people like us? I used to associate burning out with people in cubicles. Not people who work for fulfillment and service.
But for people like you and me - people who chose a career based on a passion - the problem is that we care so much.
You show up over and over - authentically, vulnerably. And that’s awesome! Don’t give that up. Your purpose is a gorgeous, glittering north star.
But remember that north stars are meant to guide you to a better place. They’re meant to give clarity, light, and meaning to your travel.
If you just let yourself slide into burning out you’re not building a business anymore. You’re lost.
You’re just a sad zombie with a LinkedIn profile.
You’re certainly not following a north star anymore. You’re just be wandering around the marketplace flash blind.
Need help finding your north star? Think I could be the one for you? Let’s chat and see if we’re right for each other.